Thursday, 28 February 2008

More from High Leigh

I arrived at High Leigh to spend a day with the Lay Workers at their Conference just in time to share in Breakfast before Martyn led us in a Bible Study. The Lay Workers were great company to keep and the Conference had obviously been going well. In the morning I chaired a session where people shared their experience of Fresh Expressions before Steve Pearce and Penny Fuller led a session on working with children and young people.
It was good to be around at lunch time when the Lay Workers took the opportunity to say thank you to Margaret Mackley, Lay Worker's Secretary for all her work with them at this the last Conference she will organise. Flowers and gifts were presented to Margaret and then we were very impressed when the Conference Centre also took the opportunity to thank Margaret as one of their most efficient Conference organisers. But as she says - she has not gone yet- and we know that Margaret has a lot to share in her work. But thank you for all your work.
In the afternoon there was a great choice of workshops and then a session where I shared something of my journey and we thought about being part of wider Methodism in Europe and the World with others sharing their experiences. I left the group to their evening activities pleased to have shared time with these people who give so much to the work of the Church and the communities in which they serve. Thank you all.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Passion around the corridors of power

These last two weeks in Parliament have been interesting ones as well as tiring (sitting into the wee small hours on 3 nights) as the Lisbon Treaty and the fate of Northern Rock have concentrated the minds of our elected representatives.

But two particular outbursts of passion have got me thinking in the last two days. Yesterday I was in the Chamber when the Liberal Democrat members staged a protest about the fact that proposed amendments from them had not been chosen for discussion. They believed that many British citizens shared their desire for these issues to be considered. They came into the chamber en masse and caused considerable disruption raising points of order before one of their number was ordered to withdraw by the Speaker and they all marched out in protest. Whilst at the time I was mainly concerned about whether the Serjeant at Arms in the Chamber would be asked to take action, I wondered later what the things are that I would be prepared to take action about. That thought was back with me today as five protestors were arrested after getting on to the roof of the House of Commons (not to be recommended) to protest against the expansion of Heathrow airport. What are the causes that make you want to protest and what is the best way of doing that? Food for thought.

The salt of the earth

At Highleigh Conference centre. At the Connexional Lay Workers Conference. Great. Why is that Methodist Lay Workers seem so optimistic and open about the future? Far more than, say, groups of presbyters like myself sometimes appear to be? Is it that they are living in cloud cuckoo land? Or can they see what others cannot about the leading of God and the infilling of the Spirit? Or am I just with a peculiar and exceptional group of optimists? Any suggestions?

Friday, 22 February 2008

Winging it

Two days this week have been spent with the RAF. Brilliant! The highlight was sitting in a Harrier jump jet which, in spite of me flicking switches (which I had no idea what they did) did not jump into the air (shame, really).

The guest of the RAF I was welcomed and escorted by RAF chaplains. What a great bunch they are too. And what an important ministry in the name of Christ and his Church.

I mention here three things they made clear. First, how marginalised they feel in relation to the 'normal' ministries of the Church, and sometimes how misunderstood. What was clear to me, even in a matter of 36 hours, was the profound impact for good they have on so many lives: service people, dependents, a whole community.

Second, they note how their ministry has changed shape in recent years. A key part of their role historically was to lead a worshipping congregation; now there is less of that (but not none of it) and much more involvement in a wider ministry of welfare, training (especially cadets) and co-ordinating various needs of the whole services community.

Third, all this is done ecumenically at a profoundly ecumenical level.

Lastly it is quite clear that the 'mindset' of people in the services is undergoing a change in light of being active in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some engineers I met have been out to A four times in the last 3 years. They are clearly weary and stretched. The context is affecting recruitment - which in turn puts more pressure on existing staff.

And in the midst of all this, alongside some stunning officers I met, are chaplains. So please pray for them, and their valuable ministry.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Happy Sunday in Harlesden, Harrow and Hillingdon

On Sunday morning we had a slightly shorter service at Harlesden Methodist Church - only 2 hours. We only had two choirs too, the Church Choir and the Youth Gospel Choir, many of whom had taken part in the celebration at Westminster Central Hall on Saturday. The Preacher was a little shorter too! But I am sure that we had no less passion and enthusiasm in our worship and it was a real pleasure to be there. It turned out that their minister, Nick Skelding and I had been in the same circuit many years ago so there was a bit of a reunion there too. We had an abundance of Vice Presidents with two former VPs, Pauline Webb and Ivan Weekes in the congregation as well as Ermal Kirby, District Chair. Blessings abound. The congregation at Harlesden made us feel very welcome and there was a lunch after the service which included a whole range of great food. Thanks to all who contributed.

At Northwood Church in the Harrow and Hillingdon Circuit the team had put together a fabulous

service after a fantastic tea. (Note to self - must go on a diet at the end of this year). We were honoured to have the Mayor of Harrow, Jean Lammiman, a member of the Church at Pinner, with us. There was a Circuit band/orchestra and choir and people sharing in prayers and a dramatised reading leaving Martyn and I to just speak. (I've already had a bit of advice on one of my illustrations from one of our worship leaders - point taken Charlie). We were all invited to take our shoes off on the way in to the sanctuary and it was with great relief that the president and I discovered that our socks were not holey just holy. (Sorry!) There was the opportunity to take part in an action response involving rainbow coloured ribbons going out in a web to all corners of the Church.
It was good to see people from my Church in Ruislip - at least they know I am still alive and well even though absent from their congregation for this year. Thanks to all of those who took part and made this a special service and a special day.
It is a real privilege to serve the Church and to be able to share with so many people in so many ways.

Wonderful Walworth

Got back from the London visit very late last night. Great time. Nice meal with district reps on Friday at which a really helpful and potentially significant 'round table' conversation took place. Most cogent comment of the evening - Garry Beech (Ruby's hubby) 'we talk too much. We should just get on with it!'

Saturday afternoon was spent at Westminster Central Hall - I should have shares in that place this year! (No doubt Martin Turner, the Superintendent of the Hall and good pal will now try sell me some.) But it was a good do. Titled 'Sharing Treasures - celebrating gifts' it was an extravaganza about the diversity in the London District. Choirs sang, interviews took place, I did a bible study and a short preach and Ruby offered some telling reflections. Well done the crew who organised it all.

Sunday evening, last night, was spent at Harrow and Hillingden Circuit and I'll leave Ruby to tell you about that, not least because she is a local preacher in that Circuit. But it was really good.

Sunday morning was spent at Walworth Methodist Church (Clubland). Once rightly famous under the long ministry of Jimmy Butterworth this church hit a low point in the 70's with a handful of members, and now claims to be the largest membership Methodist Church in London, about 570.

Certainly most of them turned up yesterday. They had willingly accepted the invitation to attend in national dress and the Ghanaian, Zimbabwean, Sierra Leonean and Nigerian fellowship groups in the church all took turns to lead worship in traditional, joyful song. It was great. Highlight was the 'walk-up offertory' which took 20 minutes but was fantastic as the congregations swayed and gave and sang their hearts out. Oh yes, and I preached, apparently for 40 minutes (obviously got a bit carried away there!). After the 2 hour 20 minute service we all had lunch - It was like being back in Freetown. Terrific!

I was surprised to discover that they have not had a president's visit for many years. Well, nobody I talked to could ever remember one before.

When you are designated president you have built into your diary visits to the three main London congregations: Westminster Central Hall, Wesley's Chapel and West London Mission/Hinde St. I think from now on Walworth Methodist Church should be added to that list. A real fillip for flagging presidents in the middle of February.

So thanks to all for a great weekend, and thanks Jenny, a wonderful host, and another longsuffering District Chair relieved to have had the President come.... and go!

Thursday, 14 February 2008

With the prophets

Just got back from Birmingam, where I've spent the last 24 hours in the stimulating company of those attending the Black/Asian Methodist Ministers/Deacons Consultation.

It was a rich time of listening to Christian folk who's experience of our Methodist Church is a mixture of great blessing and great trial. They gently but clearly expressed a sense of frustration at 'not being properly used' and not knowing how to best engage with many of the processes and structures of our Church. Ring any bells?

They were particularly aware of the low numbers of 'home-grown' Black and Asian ministers and deacons enriching our Church, and are anxious to know what best to do to increase the numbers. Any ideas?

It was clear to all of us that the face of Methodism in this country is changing. One minister spoke about a fruitful ministry among Ghanaian people in London, and another of a large and vibrant Black Methodist congregation.

I replied, and fully believe, that God's renewing will entail a much greater offering and receiving of the worship, faith, ministries, sense of justice (and injustice) and models of discipleship that Black and Asian Methodist Communities bring into our midst. 24 hours with these good folk, some of whom have to cope with what I could not, makes me feel I have been with a prophetic community in our Church. Thank you all.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Celebration in Hoddesdon

On Saturday evening I went to Hoddesdon Methodist Church to speak after the meal to celebrate the refurbishment of the Church sanctuary and foyer. The foyer really felt welcoming and drew you in and there had obviously been extensive work moving the pulpit from one side of the sanctuary to the other and making it a welcoming open space.
We had a great meal and the opportunity to meet people including Robert who was visiting from Ghana and the Beech sisters who may or may not be related to us! Everyone seemed pleased with the work that had been done including a couple who had travelled back from the South Coast to see the changes to the church they had been married.
I spoke and took questions after dinner and then we all went off recognising that this refurbished church was a great place to join together and be a witness for God and a facility for the community but that wherever we went God was with us.

Back home...

Home in this instance is not the frosty, magnificent Peak District, but my return to the West Yorkshire District yesterday.

I was born in Bradford, and it was a delight to lead worship in St Andrew's last night, thank you all for a special time.

I was a minister for five years (1986-91) in the Shipley and Bingley Circuit in that District, and was delighted to be able to preach at the 140th anniversary of one of my former 'charges', Saltaire Methodist Church. They were, I'm delighted to say, in fine form. We were all on our best behaviour: the members telling me that I hadn't changed a bit (except for gray hair, wrinkles, gammy ankle and two stones round the waist!) and me reciprocating in kind! The sanctuary was beautifully decorated, and the data projector provided words for prayers and hymns, and (for me at any rate) enhanced the worship.

They took the liberty of showing some surprise photos on the screen at the start of the circuit, of me while a minister with them, at a church weekend, at a baptism etc. How slim and good looking I was then - what on earth has happened to me?! However - and I shall be approaching David Gamble for advice about this, so be warned Ronnie Mallinson and Barrie Horsley - I did not appreciate the pic of me dressed up as a giant emu with yellow underpants on, in the church panto! The things we do... and wish we hadn't!

Seriously, it was lovely to see so many faithful souls - and some new folks too - and catch up a little on news. We had a lovely lunch and a great time.

Thank you all for making my brief trip 'back home' a lovely and memorable one. You are special people.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Sing for Joy

Yesterday morning found me back in Mansfield for the funeral of a wonderful godly woman, Joy Johnson. We had visited her back in October when I went “home” to the Nottingham and Derby District and had a lovely few hours with her. Joy had contracted ovarian cancer in 2005 and eventually this spread with the bone cancer giving her the most pain. She died peacefully on Thursday 31st January.

We arrived early at Bridge Street Church and this banner on the wall caught my eye. It seemed so appropriate as Joy had been a music teacher and after having her own children had carried on working with children and young people in churches and schools to hear the Christian message through music.

For me Joy and Philip had given real support and encouragement in the early years of my Christian life when I was a teenager. Joy was so calm and so loving, a very special person.

The funeral was very moving and many a tear was shed. I found that singing “All to Jesus” was particularly poignant for me. I had not sung it for years and then I had sung it twice in a few weeks – the previous time being at the memorial service for Rob Frost. What a lot I owe to so many people who really gave their all to Jesus.

My prayers are with Philip and their children Wesley, Iothe and Matthew and grandchildren Isaac and Seth and all those who mourn this amazing woman who gave her All to Jesus.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

our cup runneth over

a joint blog. We are both sitting in a session of the Methodist Council. Our cup runneth over. Nuff said.
Martyn and Ruby

Monday, 4 February 2008

Saturday night and Sunday morning

As Martyn says we had a great time on Saturday then on Saturday evening we went on to separate events.

I was taken by Ashley Cooper to Blythe Bridge where a group of youth leaders with representatives from their groups came together for dinner and a "Question time" type panel. Simon, a minister in the Circuit with great experience in Youth work, Tim, a young person from Blythe Bridge, Bethany, a young person from Ashley's church and I were the panel and we considered questions about what would encourage us to bring friends to Church to how we share the gospel and the commitment of the Methodist Church to young people's work. Pretty challenging.

On Sunday I was picked up from the District Manse and taken to Cheadle, Staffordshire to preach at the morning worship. It was also good to see the work that is being done in the pre-school and through the Homelink Scheme which is a voluntary organisation working to befriend and support the elderly and housebound in the Staffordshire Moorlands. Great work and great people. I was taken for lunch in local woodlands which was beautiful.

On Sunday evening I was whisked off to Wesley Avenue in the Sandbach and Alsager Circuit where we had a Circuit event in the form of an agape service, sharing in food and fellowship together in what I found to be a very moving way. Then I left to catch the train and was home before midnight - so avoiding turning into a pumpkin!

What a great weekend. There are many things which will stay with me from that visit and as I travelled into work this morning I found I had much to ponder over.

on the road again

After 36 hours turn around from Uganda, and the luxury of two evenings at home I travelled to the Chester and Stoke on Trent Methodist District for an official visit.

It began on Saturday, with a snowy car ride over the moors listening to Paul Simon's 'slip sliding away' - which was exactly what the car was doing! But I did manage to get to Stoke in time for the first event, a morning with over 100 local preachers and worship leaders. Ruby - being much more sensible than me - had travelled up the evening before.

It was an encouraging meeting. A music group led worship, and some young dancers danced beautifully. Ruby spoke powerfully about the need to listen and learn and about a humility but confidence about preaching a proclaiming the gospel. I did a power point on (hopefully) 'helpful hints for preaching today. This was followed by a lovely buffet lunch then an interview for Radio Stoke. It was ok, but we were recording it on Saturday lunchtime and had to pretend it was Sunday morning. As the Radio presenter put it 'when you say today you mean tomorrow and when you say yesterday you mean today!' Too much for a bear of little brain!

Then followed a tour round the wonderful venue, the 'Potter's House: church for the 21st century' with its state of the art worship space, and multiple rooms for hire, and housing all sorts of good community engagement projects. Great work guys, keep it up.

We then went on to visit 'The Beacon' a community focused on prayer and witness in the city (of Stoke) and led by William and Karen Porter. Another example of deeply spiritual, connected ministry taking place in our church. Then yet another, coffee and a chat at 'taste and see' a coffee shop, becoming church community which some of you might have seen featured on the earlier Fresh Expressions video.

I know that this president thing is prone to 'the smell of fresh paint' syndrome, but it is simply a fact that all sorts of interesting, engaging, authentic, experimental, potentially renewing ministries are springing up. An impression I have long held is getting stronger not weaker. Where we are not passionate, engaged, mission minded, open to change and renewal I do not, humanly speaking, seek much hope of a bright future. Where we are, even modestly, all sorts of interesting things start to happen...